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volumetricsteve

Conceptual debate : direction obviousness

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The most useful feedback i've received on my current project is that players often don't know where to go, and they get lost easily.

I intentionally built the map to feel and be open - there are choices you can make regarding which keys you get that let you beat the level in different ways. I built it to be a space meant to be explored and I very much wanted to encourage the player to explore the space....but it seems to boil down to there being a really fine line of the balance of this exploration being exciting and just being confusing.

the most interesting thing I've heard back has been that once I explain where I thought people would go, they instantly "got it" and chuckled to themselves that they didn't see the way to begin with...

When I set out to make these maps, I wanted to bring in something I loved in games I played as a kid - feeling completely lost. (thanks, Decent 1 and 2, and to a similar extent, Quake 1, and a lesser extent Doom 1 and 2)

My question to you all is, how obvious do the right paths need to be before they become annoying? Should there be a big flashing neon pointing you in the right direction? How vague should they be to remain mysterious? Should they be mysterious at all?

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Nobody is going to fault you for making a nonlinear map, but a good nonlinear map shouldn't make the player feel lost. Players should be able to go anywhere they want in any order and still be able to deal with the challenges they face. If they get stuck and are unable to progress, it's probably because either 1) you're not giving them enough weapons and ammo on some routes, or 2) you're cutting off their routes back the way they came, and I'm really not sure why you would do that.

You might also find it helpful to create more mini-goals to give players a sense that their exploration is really rewarding -- for instance, every setpiece encounter or major room rewards players with a weapon, armor, powerful item, etc. That way, they always have something they're working toward even if they don't know exactly where they're going from moment to moment.

There are a few really cool "concept" levels that rely on progression being confusing, like Sminky2 and Sheer Poison, and that can be cool, but a lot of people are likely to hate it (personally, I loved Sminky2, but Sheer Poison drove me crazy and I never finished it). It depends what you're going for, I guess.

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It should be obvious, for my taste at least. If a level has distinct memorable looking areas you shouldn't get lost too much, and you'll know when you're in a new area. Therefore you'll know where to go.

So it should be obvious where to go, whether the map is linear or not.

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You need landmarks and obviously locked out areas, so the player knows that if he does something, he should come back here. And if he gets into a previously locked out area, then he is supposed to do "something" in there to open up another area.

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Thinking of good examples of exploratory maps like vela pax for instance, you might not have much idea where you are meant to be going but there are always options for new places to explore, often signaled by items you haven't picked up or monsters you haven't killed. If the navigation isnt obfuscated too much by one way systems and the like, then running around isn't such a hassle. Often there will be clear overall goals in sight, such as a locked door you need a key for, or an exit that you can see but can't reach yet, and each area is visually distinctive to help you remember. Routes are usually circular and lead back to familiar places rather than dead ends.

Bad examples tend to have obscure puzzle-based progression, visually uniform areas and annoying navigation. In the worst cases there might be something easily missed early in the map that later turns out to be necessary to progress, or in the very worst cases something like a damaging floor or tons of monsters chasing you so you dont have time to look for stuff. I think I've been guilty of all those things in my maps.

The mistake I often make is in assuming that the player will enjoy living in the world I have created and will amble around searching every nook and cranny. What tends to happen instead is that players charge through with guns blazing, missing vital objectives and get stuck and frustrated. I would highly recommend watching someone play your maps to get a sense of this.

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@mouldy -
Watching someone play my map was actually what made me start this thread, they got lost and instead of being like "WAIT NO...I MUST SEARCH DEEPER" they just wanted to get to the next area, like you said, with guns blazing.

I suppose this means Doom should be less like Myst and more like Doom.

@VGA -

I kinda have landmarks, but maybe I need more.....discernible landmarks.

@PsychoGoatee -

I think a lot of people agree with you. I wanted to make something that felt hand-crafted, intricut and cared for...but a lot of the subtlety gets passed up immediately for gunnin' and runnin'

@Not Jabba -

I like the idea of rewarding the player with progression, but the trouble is there are so few...things to be had as a reward in doom, I'm pretty much left to re-rewarding the same 7 or so weapons over and over...or..providing secret areas which may be interesting...but those in turn offer the player what...more weapons? a soul sphere? Creating a sense of reward in doom was never something I thought of while playing it, and I can't really think of how to implement it in an easily replicatable way. I think you're right, it's just a tough one.

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Unless your level is super mega huge, you can manage pretty easily with the stock items. For rewards available in regular progression, you've got five standard guns, the chainsaw, berserk packs, ammo backpacks, invis spheres (maybe), lite-amp goggles (maybe), green armor, large caches of ammo and/or health, and occasional soulspheres and blue armors if your level is large and difficult. The best rewards for secrets are getting a weapon (or berserk) much earlier than normal, getting extra soulspheres and blue armors, and getting megaspheres, the area map, and the BFG, which in most levels are all secret-only.

In addition, if your level is non-linear, most of the weapons should appear in multiple places just to ensure that all routes are viable.

In other words, you can have a lot of space and a lot of rooms and still not run out of stuff to give people.

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Use "breadcrumbs"

These are things that guide the player to where they are supposed to be going. Monsters are great at this. Everyone knows an area with corpses in it is a place the player has been in already, and a place with monsters in it is a place the player hasnt been in yet. Items can work well at this too.

Show the player what they want without showing them how to get it. That will make your map more interesting and communicate to the player that there is more to the map than what they interact with directly. Use windows and pitfalls as obstacles for the player, but also as sight advantages to see items the player will want. Soulspheres and distant monsters are okay but keys and new guns are better.

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Special items, also make for great bait, for a trap. (i.e. getting flanked by monster closets opening up.)

For example, getting the secret chainsaw by the crusher hallway on E2M2.

You can lure the player with a breadcrumb, right into a trap.

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40oz said:

http://doomwiki.org/w/images/b/b2/E1M3_fat_trail.png

Use "breadcrumbs"

These are things that guide the player to where they are supposed to be going. Monsters are great at this. Everyone knows an area with corpses in it is a place the player has been in already, and a place with monsters in it is a place the player hasnt been in yet. Items can work well at this too.

True true, especially those health potion or single armor pickups.

And personally, I like pressing a switch and seeing what it actually does. Like through a window or something. I also hate those one-time switches that fall back into their previous state. So I'm not sure if they are one-time or repeatable, anyone knows what I am talking about?

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Lots of good advice here, particularly mouldy's and 40oz's posts. The part about using monsters to signify "you haven't been here yet" is worth echoing.

My usual advice when it comes to this sort of thing is to remove progression restrictions and obscure puzzle-y bits such that the answer to "Where do I go?" becomes "Anywhere." Sounds like the OP's done that to a degree, though, so the guidance issue (landmarks, breadcrumbs, etc.) comes to the forefront.

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Non-linear design is always good, the trick is in giving the player enough subtle hints that they have an intuitive idea of where they need to be, or what areas should be returned to. I always try to make locked doors a noticeable feature, as a visual objective the player can keep in their mind as they explore further. Someone further up mentioned breadcrumbs, which I've also found to be hugely helpful in drawing player attention to a certain area. Flashing goodies like health vials are very alluring and can guide the player to areas they might otherwise miss. If backtracking is necessary, adding some monsters can indicate that the player is SUPPOSED to be returning to that room.

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I thought 40's post was showing off slime trails for a sec, rofl

This has essentially already been stated, by giving different rooms defining characteristics also helps give the player a sense of where they are - "Ah, the green torch, that means this is the room of the far east side" etc etc. If everything looks the same, it is insanely easy to get lost.

All the advice in this thread is worth following.

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Wow guys, thanks, first of all, this is all great.

I got in a car accident this morning (it was small, we barely traded paint) but I'm kinda scrambled, I'd love to implement all of this advice in what I'm doing I just need to unscramble.

More on this soon, I wanna dig into each of these posts.

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It'd probably be best to make important switches/doors look important, or easy to see. It might also do well to avoid too many right angle junctions, because if people are focusing on something ahead of them they may not immediately process an opening to their side as a place they can go.

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Jaxxoon R said:

It'd probably be best to make important switches/doors look important, or easy to see. It might also do well to avoid too many right angle junctions, because if people are focusing on something ahead of them they may not immediately process an opening to their side as a place they can go.

This is also a good point; while you don't have to go full blob, I find that organic, rounded architecture tends to guide the player much more smoothly and create less abrasive start-and-stop motions which can be disorienting.

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volumetricsteve said:

The most useful feedback i've received on my current project is that players often don't know where to go, and they get lost easily.

I intentionally built the map to feel and be open - there are choices you can make regarding which keys you get that let you beat the level in different ways. I built it to be a space meant to be explored and I very much wanted to encourage the player to explore the space....but it seems to boil down to there being a really fine line of the balance of this exploration being exciting and just being confusing.

the most interesting thing I've heard back has been that once I explain where I thought people would go, they instantly "got it" and chuckled to themselves that they didn't see the way to begin with...

When I set out to make these maps, I wanted to bring in something I loved in games I played as a kid - feeling completely lost. (thanks, Decent 1 and 2, and to a similar extent, Quake 1, and a lesser extent Doom 1 and 2)

My question to you all is, how obvious do the right paths need to be before they become annoying? Should there be a big flashing neon pointing you in the right direction? How vague should they be to remain mysterious? Should they be mysterious at all?


I built a level a while back with a very open, non linear approach and I got similar feedback to you - "non linear to a fault". In another level "the techno palace", I wanted it to be a fast paced level where you don't kill everything, but Suitepee played it an stayed in the one place killing repetitive waves of enemies - boring as hell.

When you're trying to do anything new, it's difficult to overcome people's expectations. Doom has been out a looong time now, and people have been playing very similar style of levels for ages, and so when going into a new level they get into a certain mindset. If the experience they get is not what they were expecting it can be frustrating. The information you gave the people who then "got it" needs to be communicated with the design of the level itself.

So if you want the player to wander you need to figure out a way to reward that style of play. Maybe have cool encounters in memorable rooms so that each new area is a treat. Maybe have a big, obvious goal so that the player has purpose while they're searching around, like a series of bridges that need to be raised to complete the level.

And I think you have to account for the way people like the play doom, either by subverting their expectations in an interesting way, or by accepting certain people won't like your level. In my techno palace level, I reduced the amount of ammunition to force the player to keep moving, encouraging the playstyle that works best with the level.

As far as what you should do with directions, just keep in mind the things players like and don't like and try to make the level a rewarding experience. If there are a lot of paths, try to make them all lead somewhere interesting. Wandering in circles is generally not fun. One way paths make being lost more frustrating. If you're wanting the player to feel lost, it'd probably be a good idea to ensure the level is fun to run around in and nice to look at.

Hope this helps :)


hell temple 8 (Non linear to a fault) - https://www.doomworld.com/idgames/levels/doom2/Ports/g-i/helltem8

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